“Whistle while you work” may have been the mantra for the Seven Dwarfs, but a lot has changed in motivating a work force since Snow White’s release in 1937.
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Three basic ingredients to leadership include knowing what you want, who can give it to you and how to get it. One dynamic executive has orchestrated harmony among his sizeable workforce of more than 20,000 workers, achieving and maintaining food safety operations at more than 500 food and beverage locations. Walt Disney World Co. (Orlando, Fla.) has long had futuristic leadership, beginning with its founder who convinced us that once upon a time, the world would be a better place, as it was implied with the futuristic Epcot hydroponics food farming.
Food grown without dirt may have once been unthinkable, but the vision of Walt Disney has always been one of the futures and his legacy carries on in the 21st Century through Frank Yiannas, who is no newcomer to recognition for his food quality involvement and achievements.
As Disney’s technical director of safety and health, Yiannas oversees all food safety programs and other public health functions for one of the largest entertainment and hospitality complexes in the world. He believes he is blessed to work in such a highly creative environment, and believes even more strongly that his staff does more than a series of daily procedures.
Yiannas is also a nationally-recognized speaker and is known for his innovative approaches to food safety.
He recently served as a keynote speaker at the Food Quality Award ceremonies last October. His presentation provided a glimpse into changes necessary for the 21st Century, most importantly, the need to create a culture of food safety reflected in the actions of each employee. While there will always be the battle between the old traditions and cutting-edge change, Yiannas strives for a change-friendly environment.
“We must be adaptable and amenable to change in order to positively impact food safety,” he says, adding that leading a staff is a lot like parenting a family. “We are trained to detect what’s wrong, but what really gains better results? As a parent, I learned how to praise four to 10 times more than criticize.”
The success of Disney’s food safety culture is recipe that combines clear food safety performance expectations, education and training of all employees, who are affectionately called cast members, on food safety, development of a comprehensive food safety communication plan, development of performance goals, staff accountability and measurement systems and consistent consequences and rewards for food safety performance and behaviors.
Staff recognition and rewards include the company’s Food Safety Partner Award, a highly-regarded glass sculpture that generates incentive and pride in “creating the magical memories” for guests.
During the October presentation, Yiannas integrated a quote from the Roman satirist Petronius: “We tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing and a wonderful method» it can be for creating the illusion of progress…”
“While food safety is magical, it is not magic,” Yiannas says ‘We take a holistic approach and our philosophy, is from “farm to fork,” highlighting the importance of carefully screening and selecting hundreds of vendors who comply with food safety guidelines. It’s being aware of trends in food allergies and microbial issues. You can do everything perfect each day, but if the supplier is bas….”
Yiannas says he tries to be a “bit of a futurist.”
“It’s important for me as a food safety professional to not only predict, but to shape the future,” he says. I firmly believe that strategy precedes structure.”
Always on the lookout for emerging trends, Yiannas is consistently striving to improve methods to enhance surveillance to detect foodborne pathogens to prevent illnesses or outbreaks.